KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 – Malaysia may be forced to discard at least nearly half a million unused doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine after they expire in about three months.
Malaysia received its latest and final batch of 1,365,200 AstraZeneca shots produced by Thailand’s Siam Bioscience Co. Ltd on February 16 from the government’s direct order of 6.4 million doses.
According to the lot release certificates issued by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), this vaccine batch, divided into lot numbers A1168 (690,900 doses) and A1169 (674,300 doses), will expire on May 31.
Ministry of Health (MOH) vaccine administration data show that about 9,848 AstraZeneca doses on average were administered daily in the past two weeks, both as a booster and primer shot.
Back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that it will take 138 days, or over four months, from today to finish up the 1,365,200 doses, based on the current daily average.
This means that Malaysia will be wasting some 409,944 AstraZeneca doses from the latest batch, since a rate of 9,848 jabs a day will clear only 955,256 doses by May 31, assuming that the February 16 batch is utilised from today.
However, if the government still has some more existing stock besides the February 16 batch, it will take even longer to clear the latest batch – going way past the expiry date.
CodeBlue’s projection also assumes that inoculation will continue at the past fortnight’s rate of 9,848 average daily AstraZeneca jabs.
At its peak this year, Malaysia administered nearly 55,000 AstraZeneca jabs daily on a seven-day average, consisting of both booster and primer shots. However, the figure steeply declined since the end of January to an average of 7,187 AstraZeneca shots daily – an 86.8 per cent drop – as of February 22.
The declining trend is expected to continue in subsequent weeks, given AstraZeneca’s limited uptake nationwide as a booster and primer shot.
According to the CovidNow site, overall booster rates across vaccine types began declining to below 100,000 daily third doses from February 19 after a brief upward trend from February 7. About 60 per cent of adults aged 18 and over have been boosted to date.
With nearly the entire adult population fully vaccinated, AstraZeneca is now mainly used in the booster programme, but only as an alternative to Pfizer. Only Pfizer’s shot is recommended for the adolescent and paediatric inoculation programmes, except for those allergic to the mRNA vaccine.
Hence, it is very possible that Malaysia may end up throwing out far more than 410,000 unused coronavirus vaccine doses, just like other wealthy countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and nations in the European Union, though these economies are estimated to waste far more Covid-19 vaccine doses in the millions.
Reuters reported last week that AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine has a relatively short shelf life, complicating its rollout in the global Covax vaccine-sharing programme to deliver shots to poorer countries like in Africa.
According to an internal World Health Organization (WHO) document on vaccine stocks in 19 central and west African countries, as sighted by Reuters, most of these nations had expired AstraZeneca vaccine doses, compared to a “handful” of countries with expired doses from other vaccine manufacturers.
Africa’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously said last January that donated Covid-19 vaccines to the continent should come with a shelf life of three to six months, due to logistical challenges in transporting the vaccines to rural communities that can sometimes take weeks.
In Malaysia, however, although AstraZeneca’s latest batch has a shelf life of about three-and-a-half months, the problem isn’t so much logistics but poorer demand for boosters than primer shots.
CodeBlue has tried to reach Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s office for comment.